The candidate with the most robust campaign infrastructure, combined with the right messaging, has typically won in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But across the three lead off states, there’s a subdued feeling among Old Guard Republicans as they prepare to raise the curtain on their party’s nominating contest. The traditional harvest of yard signs has thinned as campaigns place their focus on social media, debate preparation and strategic outreach.
Rather than energetic grassroots politicking, the GOP contest has been defined so far by the dozen or so television debates between the eight leading candidates. In South Carolina, some Republicans are grumbling about the weakest organizational showing they’ve seen since the state became Southern kingmaker in 1980. Strategists in the Granite State, meanwhile, say the mechanics of the campaigns are on par with past cycles, but the rhythm has slowed considerably.
Prior to Herman Cain's abrupt withdrawal from the field, we canvassed some of our own insiders in each state, asked the campaigns for their internal numbers and came up with an operational tip sheet to help you grade each candidate’s ground game.
These figures could fluctuate in the coming days as Cain's former staffers seek to join rival campaigns. Or not, because as one South Carolina operative put it: "They are responsible for what is quite possibly the worst presidential campaign in history.
"I can't imagine a campaign hiring any of Herman Cain's staff," the unaffiliated operative added.
Michele Bachmann: Given her Waterloo roots, Bachmann has spent more time here than anywhere else and it’s basically a must-win. She maintains her most robust organization in Iowa, which helped her win the Ames straw poll and gives her a real shot to capture the Evangelical crowd if she can jumpstart her bid.
Offices: One Paid staff: 12
Newt Gingrich: He had six staffers here in June, but they joined the Gingrich mass exodus. He’s since rehired some staff, including Craig Schoenfeld, who had a stint with the Perry camp. Gingrich plans a big expansion here in the coming weeks.
Offices: One Paid staff: Two to four
Ron Paul: Paul’s fan base has grown since a fifth place finish in 2008 and he could sneak up on his rivals. Some supporters have integrated into the state party structure, even in far-flung counties like Linn. That’s embodied in his vice chairman, A.J. Spiker, who formerly led the Story County GOP.
Offices: At least one Paid staff: Five to 10
Rick Perry: Perry has mounted a serious effort in Iowa, attracting top local talent in the form of consultant Robert Haus and others. He’s recruiting a volunteer “strike force” from around the country to work with precinct-level organizers on caucus night.
Offices: One Paid staff: 10
Mitt Romney: Romney was embarrassed in Iowa after investing heavily there in 2008 only to finish second. He hasn’t built much of an organization this time around, instead focusing on New Hampshire. Still, he’s retained some staff from 2008, notably consultant Sara Craig.
Offices: One Paid staff: Four, including one consultant
Rick Santorum: Santorum had a kind of 9-9 plan when it came to Iowa, campaigning in all the state’s 99 counties. Unclear if he’ll be able to tap into the Evangelical base that supported Huckabee in 2008. He hasn’t attracted big-name talent in Iowa. Put his faith in attorney Cody Brown to lead the state effort.
Offices: One Paid staff: 13